All Have Sinned
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
God and man measure righteousness by a vastly different standard. Man measures his righteousness by comparing his goodness to that of others instead of asking himself a most critical question, “what righteousness does God require?” Jesus told the disciples, For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). God demands perfection righteousness. John Stott, in his commentary on Romans, quotes English bishop Handley Moule who said, “The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of it [God’s glory]; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they.”1 The great deception comes when the lost sinner, after comparing himself to others, regards himself as good enough, as righteous enough, when in reality he is no closer to God. As far as God is concerned, he is no better off, for he stands on the same corrupt and filthy moral ground as those with whom he compares himself do.
This verse pretty much drives home everything Paul has said about man’s sinfulness and depravity. Man is lost, so much so that, There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one (Rom. 3:11-12). Isaiah writes: All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind (Isa. 64:6). All without exception are in the category of rebellious sinners. All have willfully suppressed the outward and inward knowledge of God, who claims as Creator to be Lord of our lives. Sinning simply confirms our status as sinners, and sin cuts us off from God.
Fall short means to lack or to be without. Literally, verse 23 says, “All have sinned and lack the glory of God.” Notice the tenses here. All have sinned (past tense) and fall short (present tense). Not only did all sin in the past, but they continually come short of the glory of God in the present. Man was made in the image of God to bring him glory and enjoy the glory of his praise (Rom. 2:29). Because of sin, man lost this glory; he cannot live in God’s presence, enjoying his approval. All men are sinners and under God’s disapproval.
Sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Since all are spiritually dead, to be justified before God a righteousness which is not their own, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that comes from outside of themselves is needed. The righteousness needed is the righteousness of Christ, a righteousness that cannot be attained by human effort or good works.
Scripture calls sinners to place their trust in Christ and his righteousness since they have no righteousness of their own. That placing of trust in Jesus Christ and his righteousness is what is referred to as faith. The moment the sinner places his trust in Christ and his righteousness a double transfer occurs. The one transfer is God legally imputing Christ’s righteousness to him. To impute means to set to someone’s account or to reckon something to another person. Merrill Unger explains that “The great theme of the book of Romans has to do with the doctrinal expression of imputation of the righteousness of God to the believer as it pertains to his salvation… The Pauline epistles in general clearly show that this phase of imputation is the groundwork of the Christian’s acceptance and standing before an infinitely holy God. Only this righteousness can find acceptance for salvation, and through it alone one may enter heaven… it is clear that an imputed righteousness, the righteousness of God Himself, is sinful man’s only hope of acceptance with the Holy One.”2
The other transfer is the imputation of our sin to Christ and the assignment of our guilt to him. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Isaiah states that, he [Christ] was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5-6). And Peter tells us that, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
R.C. Sproul writes, “In the drama of justification, God remains just. He does not set aside his justice. He does not waive his righteousness; he insists upon it. We cannot be justified without righteousness, but the glory of his grace is that his justice is served vicariously by a substitute that he appointed. God’s mercy is shown in that what saves us is not our righteousness. It is someone else’s. We get in on someone else’s coattails—that is grace. That somebody, our Redeemer, is perfectly righteous and has fulfilled the justice of God for us perfectly. That is the glory of justification. God demonstrates that he is both just and justifier. If all he did was maintain his righteousness without extending the imputation of that righteousness to us, he would not be the justifier. He is both just and justifier, which is the marvel of the gospel.”3
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Have you placed your faith in Christ and his righteousness?
1 John Stott, The Bible Speaks Today – The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), 109.
2 Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1988), 612.
3 R.C. Sproul, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary – Romans (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 104.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.
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